Alex Murdaugh pleads not guilty — for now — to federal wire fraud and money laundering charges

FILE - Defendant Alex Murdaugh gives testimony during his murder trial at the Colleton County Courthouse in Walterboro, S.C., on Feb. 23, 2023. Convicted murderer Murdaugh is facing federal charges for the first time after being indicted on 22 financial fraud charges related to schemes the former attorney used to steal settlement money from clients. (Grace Beahm Alford/The Post And Courier via AP, Pool, File)

CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) — Alex Murdaugh was arraigned Wednesday on federal money laundering and wire fraud charges for indictments saying he stole money from his clients, and although he pleaded not guilty for now, his lawyer said that might change soon.

Murdaugh is already serving a life sentence in a South Carolina state prison for killing his wife and son, and the details of the 22 financial charges aren't new. State prosecutors have indicted Murdaugh on similar charges, saying he diverted money meant for clients and a wrongful death settlement for his family's longtime housekeeper who fell at Murdaugh's home to his own bank accounts.

Murdaugh's lawyers said in a statement last week the former attorney has been cooperating with federal investigators, and they anticipated the latest charges would be "quickly resolved without a trial."

A federal guilty plea to the charges that can mean decades in prison would guarantee a long time behind bars for Murdaugh even if his pending appeal of his double murder conviction was successful.

Murdaugh took the stand at his murder trial earlier this year to repeatedly deny shooting his 22-year-old son, Paul, and 52-year-old wife, Maggie, at their home. Prosecutors said he decided to kill them because his millions of dollars of theft was about to be discovered, and he was hoping their deaths would buy him sympathy and time to figure out a cover-up.

Murdaugh, who turned 55 in a state prison cell in protective custody Saturday, also faces around 100 other state charges, including stealing from clients and his family's law firm, insurance fraud and tax evasion.

Prosecutors, Murdaugh's attorneys and state Judge Clifton Newman, who presided over the murder trial, are trying to find court time to try at least some of those charges before Newman has to retire because of his age at the end of 2023.

In federal court, Murdaugh faces 14 counts of money laundering, five counts of wire fraud, one count of bank fraud, one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and bank fraud, and one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud.

His longtime friend Cory Fleming — an old college roommate and godfather to one of his sons — pleaded guilty last week to conspiracy to commit wire fraud for his part in helping Murdaugh steal more than $4 million in wrongful-death settlements with insurers meant for the family of his longtime housekeeper Gloria Satterfield.

The other allegations prosecutors detail in Murdaugh's federal indictments already have been revealed in state legal papers.

It said Murdaugh and a banker friend, Russell Laffitte, worked together to take settlement money out of client's accounts, prosecutors said. Laffitte was convicted in November of six wire and bank fraud charges.

Other federal indictments give detailed allegations of how Murdaugh created a bank account that had a similar name to a legitimate company that handled settlements to steal money from clients.